Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
This column is part 11 of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.
When it comes to the reception and classification of queer or gender-nonconforming individuals, there are a lot of stereotypes, but some seem to work together to create caricatures of people within the community. Three of the more prominent caricatures work to hypersexualize, minimize or politicize queer and gender-nonconforming people.
With the current caricatures of queerness that are present in society, the queer and gender-nonconforming community is split into identities that are easy for people outside the community to use but still threaten the strength of the community as a whole. Stereotypes make it harder to create change. It is not on the community to break out of the stereotypes. It is on society to get rid of stereotypes so that individuals in the community aren’t judged based on a lack of dimensional understanding of queerness.
The problem is that these caricatures not only perpetuate stereotypes, but also treat the community as if it can simply be divided into three identities. A lot of the time, it is less about the actual person and how that person is perceived by the world around them. For example, queer people are often hypersexualized, and queer people of color are subjected to this at a high rate. After Lil Nas X came out as gay, his work was sexualized by many of his fans, including Old Town Road which stayed at the top of the charts for a record-breaking 19 weeks.
However, after he came out, many fans claimed that the hit was actually about gay sex. One of the lyrics, “I’m gonna ride ‘til I can’t no more,” gained more and more attention from fans ready to sexualize Lil Nas X. When he came out, people started to tweet things like “so that’s what he meant by ride ‘til I cant no more ...” Lil Nas X responded by emphasizing that “Old Town Road is literally about horses” on Twitter. Despite taking a huge step for queer and gender-nonconforming individuals, and more specifically queer people of color, Lil Nas X was immediately oversexualized.
The knee-jerk reaction of thinking about sex when people come out as queer or gender-nonconforming is indicative of a huge problem. If the first thing people think of is sex, then society has boiled down queer relationships to just how the individuals have sex. Relationships that are between a cis man and a cis woman don’t immediately have their sex lives put on trial. The fetishization of the community is also where the image of queer and gender-nonconforming individuals being predators comes from. Sexualizing the community has put additional pressure on individuals to prove that the community isn’t the stereotype.
Even if people don’t immediately think about sex first thing, snap judgments put queer and gender-nonconforming individuals into boxes that block them from experiencing the same access to life. Caricatures can also minimize queer or gender-nonconforming into one-dimensional images of humor or friendliness for people outside of the community. While this may not sound like a bad thing, this is where the “gay best friend” and the idea of acceptable queer comedy originate from.
The queer and gender-nonconforming community, like other marginalized groups, has the emotional labor of dealing with jokes made at their expense and the assumption that they are here to be everyone else’s friend. The gay best friend trope tends to create an image of queer and gender non-conforming individuals that removes the dimensional aspects of their personality. Queer and gender-nonconforming individuals don’t need to be friends with everyone in order to be treated fairly.
This trope also puts the burden of understanding and participating in humor that dehumanizes their community. When Kevin Hart was called out on jokes that were blatantly homophobic, he claimed that apologizing would feed the so-called internet trolls. He then gave two barely-there apologies and told Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan that he was done apologizing. The expectation was that the community would accept the apology that was more of a joke than Hart’s original statements. The community was expected to forgive and forget despite the fact that Hart has done nothing to show change. Individuals in the community are expected to laugh at homophobic jokes or be classified as internet trolls.
However, if they choose to speak out against discrimination, they easily fall into the politicized caricature of queerness. Being a member of the queer and gender-nonconforming community shouldn’t be a political act, but it has become one. If speaking out against people who hurt or discriminate against them is seen as a political stance, then discussions about queer and gender-nonconforming identities are limited to political settings. This ruins the individual’s ability to feel heard and understood.
It is not a political statement to be something other than cis or straight. Asking people to respect your identity shouldn’t be criticized as being too left or liberal. For people who don’t fit into the other two caricatures, the politicization of queerness makes them seem less objective.
Lewis Raven Wallace, author of “The View from Somewhere” and producer of a podcast by the same name, has dedicated himself to discussing how the idea of objectivity excludes the voices of oppressed communities from journalism, after being fired for speaking out as a transgender journalist. In the fourth episode, Wallace talked with Sandy Nelson, a queer journalist who shared a similar story. Nelson was removed from her position as a reporter because she was an outspoken advocate and leader for queer and gender-nonconforming rights movement in Tacoma, Washington.
The concept that people from marginalized groups are inherently more political fails to recognize the burden that politics places on those individuals. No one is calling out discrimination for them, so they have to do so themselves. Forcing people to choose between appearing apolitical and their fundamental human rights isn’t fair. Standing up for the community’s right to exist isn’t a political act — it’s a life-saving one.
Putting individuals in the community into categories that act as caricatures of queerness ignores the dimensionality the community has. Just like every other community, people within the queer and gender-nonconforming community is composed of people from different backgrounds and experiences. If society boils individuals within the community down to their sex life, their ability to cater to the cis and straight majority and obvious political activists then the community will continue to be viewed as outside of mainstream culture. Queer and gender-nonconforming individuals shouldn’t be oversexualized, minimized or politized — they should be treated with the same effort to understand that society grants to people outside of the community.
Edited by Bryce Kolk | firstname.lastname@example.org